We Palestinians have so much to learn

The Gaza Strip has been under heavy Israeli fire for the past two days. At least seven Palestinians have been killed, dozens more injured, and Israel is threatening to launch a wide-scale operation into the Strip or at least resume its policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders. Families are mourning the loss of their loved ones. The mother of Matar Abu Ata, a 19-year old man killed in Israeli shelling on a soccer field, was in labor when her oldest son died. Less than two hours after he passed, his newborn baby brother was brought into the world, named of course, Matar.

As callous as this may sound, we Palestinians all know what Israel is capable of. We have lived it for years, experienced pain and suffering beyond imagination at times and we have endured. What we may not be able to endure is our own narrow mindedness and our lack of vision. That may be the last straw that breaks this camel’s back. For, while the bombs rained down on Gaza, Hamas was busy cracking down on Palestinians out in the streets to honor their dead, bury their martyrs and commemorate the 8th anniversary of late President Yasser Arafat’s death.

Yes, instead of walking in the procession with them, Fatah says Hamas security forces beat the funeral goers and actually ripped up pictures of Abu Ammar. Just last week, Hamas security forces beat participants of a women’s protest in Gaza City, dedicated women who go out every week to call for national unity. Ten women were admitted to hospital for injuries. Security forces used their hands and nightsticks to beat the women including parliamentarians and human rights activists. The scenes that came out of Gaza last week were atrocious; an urgent cause for some real soul searching.

Not like the PA forces have not engaged in brutal crackdown as well. A few months ago, when Shaul Mofaz was scheduled to visit President Abbas in Ramallah, protesters took to the streets and peacefully called for a cancellation of the visit, making it clear that Israel’s vice premier was not welcome. PA forces beat protesters with sticks and prevented them from reaching the Muqata, even though they were not threatening violence.

Needless to say, Yasser Arafat is probably turning in his grave. While the old man may have made some pretty detrimental mistakes, one thing he did know the value of was Palestinian national unity. When Hamas started gaining strength during and after the first Intifada, Arafat was sure to contain them, neutralizing any hostility between the two by “making good” with Hamas’ leaders. When Sheikh Ahmad Yassin was released from an Israeli prison in 1997 and sent to Jordan, Arafat made sure he flew over the River to meet him. He wanted to keep the peace –” knowing that the Gaza branch of Hamas was gradually growing more and more radical –” and thereby send a message through Yassin that as long as he was alive, he was boss.

This seemed to work for the most part even as Arafat’s forces cracked down on Hamas operatives, jailing hundreds of them between the years Abu Ammar returned to the Palestinian territories post-Oslo and when he died in 2004. But never has there been so much mud-slinging, hostility and brutal force used between the two rival forces than now.

What’s worse, the tunnel vision plaguing these leaders has infected some of the people as well. Israel gets pushed aside while the nastiest and ugliest language is retained for each other. Accusations abound –” of corruption, oppression, torture in prisons, and worst of all, collaboration with Israel in plotting against the other. Articles written by authors affiliated with this or that faction leave nothing to the imagination in terms of their rants against the “other side.” It is unfortunate, at best, destructive and shameful at worst.

Gaza should be a reminder to them all that nothing amounts to anything as long as the Israeli occupation is in place. We cannot let Israel sit back and mock us while we bicker away and build castles in the air with our own illusions of grandeur. Matar Abu Ata’s mother, his father and that precious little boy who will no doubt grow up in his brother’s shadow are not interested in who sits on the higher horse or how many times both sides try to knock the other one down. All Matar’s mother is thinking and praying for now is that Mater Jr. will never ever meet the fate of his big brother.